Fitzroy Crossing Temporary Control Tower - 1972

In October 1972 Princess Margaret and then husband Tony Snowdon were scheduled to visit Fitzroy Crossing, in Western Australia's remote Kimberley region. They were to stay overnight with an old friend, a former Grenadier Guard from the Palace, on nearby Gogo Station. Air Traffic Controller Geoff Goodall was one of a DCA party dispatched to Fitzroy Crossing to set up a temporary Control Tower for the visit. Some of the party, including Geoff, Controller Norm Kerr and two radio technicians, were flown the 1,400 NM (2,600 km) from Perth in DCA Merlin VH-CAM. At Fitzroy Crossing they met up with personnel from DCA's No.5 Mobile Maintenance Unit.

Geoff recalls "It was a balmy 43 C when we arrived, and the earth was so dry that we couldn't get the temporary VHF aerials to earth so had to 'water' the aerials with water from the blokes of No.5 Mobile Maintenance Unit who were camping at the drome while preparing the dirt strip for the royal HS.748. But we got an upgrade at The Crossing Inn, the only pub, from an open sided room with 10 beds to one with 6 beds!"

"Thinking back to that eventful stay at Fitzroy Crossing, I had no VHF contact with a ground vehicle to clear the flight strip, so my landing clearance to the HS.748 was: 'Royal Purple One, aboriginals inside the flight strip near the threshold, goats on the flight strip midway down on the left side, willy-willys crossing left to right frequency one a minute, crosswind gusting to 20, on your own observation, Clear to Land'".

"I've just had a look in my notebook and see that during our sightseeing with the locals over the next few days we were left there, I saw several cattle mustering Cessnas parked on stations. And I haven't mentioned the RAAF military police guarding the royal 44 gallon drums of Avtur at the airfield, 24 hours a day for the previous week, who had sunstroke and had gone totally troppo! One poor bugger had been left out there on his own for a full day when his mates were too drunk to leave the Crossing Inn, and we found him out there with no clothes and burnt redder than a lobster!"

"Or the brawl between the 14 Commonwealth drivers and the No.5 MMU blokes, when the drivers unwittingly took 5 MMU's drinking water to wash their cars just before the royal ETA!"

"Or my claim for overtime because the feared WA Superintendent of Ops, Bob Pritchard, phoned me in Perth Tower the day before we left to say a square of tarmac had been prepared for the HS.748 'and if any bloody cow-cocky parks his Cessna on it, it will be your responsibility'. So I got the poor bloody MPs stuck out there 24 hours to shoo visiting Cessnas of the black square, and I claimed the O/T on my return which caused ruptions and definitely did not help my career prospects at the time."

"Another memory is the pleasure we got when the Captain of the DCA F.27 VH-TFE (which was among the support aircraft, along with Caribous, Hercs etc) appeared, struggling up the hill where we had the Tower, balancing 3 airline catered meal trays that were left over from his load of VIPs. Talk about appreciated!"

"The RAAF 34 Squadron HS.748 Captain was Don Ende, a top bloke. When he came over to the Tower for a chat the next morning for the royal departure at 0900, he said he couldn't commence takeoff if the temperature was above 43. Margaret was nearly an hour late because she went for an unscheduled horse ride at Gogo Station. The temperature was creeping up and when the 748 taxied, I gave him the temperature as 42 and told him I would update it when he lined up, and we exchanged some amusing comments when it stayed at 42! He kept it low after departure and dropped down along Geikie Gorge before climbing out to Darwin."

The photo above shows Geoff at the microphone of the temporary Tower at Fitzroy Crossing. The other chap is the radio tech. Note the met instruments set up above the truck's cab. The photo below shows the RAAF HS.748 carrying the royal personage taking off (and using a fair bit of runway!). Note also in the distance beyond the 'Terminal' is a waiting DCA Aviation Rescue and Fire Fighting Light Tender.


Left: Fitzroy Crossing from a 1972 edition of Aerodrome Diagrams. Note the single clay runway and the position of the apron.


Until the late 1980s it was Departmental policy to establish a temporary Control Tower not only for royal visits to remote areas, but more commonly for major events such as airshows or the Birdsville races. Geoff Goodall did his share of duty in these temporary Towers, mainly in Western Australia. Geoff recalls "My temporary Towers have been on the trays of trucks (Beverley and Fitzroy Crossing), a wooden platform halfway up the NDB masts (Kalgoorlie), and on the roof of a hangar (Northam & Cairns). Also the cab of Tender 1 at Perth Airport one afternoon when I evacuated the Tower cab because of halucinating fumes coming through the air condition vents from building works on the ground floor! Our rush down the stairs to therwaiting tender timed to cause no delay to any traffic. My reward for that fast thinking was a stern letter from the SSATC saying I had not acted in a professional manner!"

(Photos: Geoff Goodall / Diagram: CAHS collection)

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